Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Bates County, University of Missouri Extension
Asparagus is always a welcome sight in early spring as a first opportunity for a fresh vegetable straight from the garden. Asparagus is low in calories — a one-half cup serving contains only 22 calories — and high in nutrients. It is a good source of folic acid and vitamins C and B6.
It is important to know how to prepare and store fresh asparagus for the best taste and maximum freshness.
If you are purchasing fresh asparagus look for firm, crisp stalks with compact, brightly colored, closed tips. The best way to store fresh asparagus is in the refrigerator upright in a drinking glass or jar filled with about an inch of water. Place a plastic bag loosely around the top. It should last three to four days stored in this way.
Most people prefer steaming as the cooking method for asparagus but it can also be boiled or cooked in the microwave. Try to place similar sized stalks together for even cooking. You can wrap a string around the asparagus and tie it in a bundle before cooking to make it easier to remove from the pan. The asparagus is cooked when the stalks are tender but still firm. Avoid overcooking asparagus as that will cause it to lose flavor, color and nutrients.
To cook asparagus in the microwave, place it in a microwave-safe dish with the tips pointed toward the center. Add 1/4 – 1/2 cup of water and cover with a lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap. It takes approximately 5-7 minutes to cook.
Asparagus can be served cold or hot. If you are going to serve it cold, dip it into cold water to stop the cooking process as soon as the asparagus is tender. People who like asparagus cold often top it with a dressing or mustard sauce.
If you have an overabundance and want to freeze your asparagus, wash the spears and trim the stalks. Sort them according to size. Blanch small spears for two minutes, medium spears for three minutes and large spears for four minutes. Remove from boiling water and dip immediately into ice water for two minutes. Promptly drain, place into containers, seal and freeze. It should be good for up to nine months in the freezer.